As a rising 4th-year medical student, I took an extended maternity leave after giving birth to my youngest daughter, Starlight (for many reasons, mostly practical ones, but some sentimental). While the obvious reasons (a proper recovery, extended breastfeeding, family quantity time) were readily apparent, there were a few unexpected discoveries on the way:
1. Making new friends, and keeping the old. During medical school, and especially during the in-hospital clerkships, my life choices were made for me: either school or family, often in that order. There was little room for anything else, especially not friends. (Have you been friends with a medical student? They are never around, and if they are, they are talking about exams or sneaking peeks from flash cards. And planning get-togethers? Forget it--they're at the mercy of the next clerkship schedule.) So a few months into my leave, when someone asked to set up a play date after a La Leche meeting, I was dumbfounded. That there are other people out there who can relate to me outside of my profession and are willing to rehabilitate me back into the world of non-familial human attachment, was--and still is--a wondrous thing. I am forever grateful for those friends who ask to socialize despite my terrible track record at reciprocation.
2. Time to....think. Don't get me wrong, in school I was thinking all the time. But the thinking that came with school was strictly medical ( or early dementia with BPH?). Left to my own devices, I started to think about my medical thinking (metadiagnosing?) and how I was taught. I reflected on what I would do for a career, what kind of thinking I liked to do. I read JAMA for fun, and went to a writing workshop for medical students. I feel...more resolute now, more introspective.
3. Hobbies. While I didn't revive my favorite hobbies with nearly the gusto I intended, it was nice to dabble in them here and there, even if it meant that time-intensive knitting was replaced with beadwork, or jogging was replaced with chasing kids in a park.
4. Kids--they grow! Once Starlight was born, I lived in this fog of sleep-deprived, perpetual kid-tending. Starlight never slept more than 40 minutes at a time, and she constantly needed to nurse. Unlike Sunshine, she wanted to be held all the time. Sunshine (my oldest daughter), being barely two, still needed intensive mothering--I was clothing her, diapering her, and cutting her food in little pieces. She couldn't be left alone more than a few seconds. It didn't occur to me then that this state of being might be temporary. Over the last few months, I've watched Starlight nap longer, learn to explore on her own, and try all sorts of finger foods. Sunshine can now put her own clothes on, play quietly by herself, and use the potty. This was definitely one of my favorite discoveries.
5. I'm the same person I always was. When I started my leave, I had grand ideas of remembering everyone's birthday with personalized cards, preparing elaborate dinners, and finishing all sorts of household projects. The truth is I'm not an apple-pie mom. I'm a doctor-mom, and if my heart and my mind are ever not with my family, they are with medicine. My house never got to immaculate status these last months, but it matters more to me that I was able to tutor medical students and perform experiments. My cooking will never make anyone's life a little better (Mr. Scrub can probably attest to this), but hopefully my skill and empathy as a physician will.
Tomorrow is my first day back. I should be wistful (and probably fearful), but right now I'm full of anticipation. New lithium AA in my pager, and a fresh set of bound notecards to pair with my pocket reference book.
The air is hardly crisp, and the leaves are far from turning, but back to school, here I come!